Can Archer Bounce Back?
The 2019 season was a forgettable one for Pirates SP Chris Archer, who finished the campaign with a 5.19 ERA, 10.75 K/9, and 4.14 BB/9 in just 119.2 IP. Thanks to right thumb and shoulder issues that shelved him at various points of the season, he made only 23 starts. His nearly identical 4.36 xFIP and 4.38 SIERA suggest that he ran up against considerable poor luck when he was on the mound, with a career-high 20% HR/FB allowed (13% career) the biggest culprit. While the 40.1% hard-hit rate that opposing batters logged against Archer was a career worst, it wasn't by much - he surrendered identical hard-hit rates of 39.4% the previous two seasons. In terms of batted balls, it seems that he left too many pitches up and therefore easy for hitters to elevate, as he surrendered a career-low 36% groundball rate to go along with career-high liner (24%) and flyball (40%) clips. And Archer didn't help himself by walking batters at the worst rate of his career. So, what to expect from him in 2020?
Let's focus on the good news beyond the homer issue that should correct to the mean and, in doing so, lower his ERA back toward 4.00. A significant figure in Archer's peripherals is his 12.9% swinging-strike rate, which sits comfortably in the 12.2 to 13.4% range that he's posted each year since 2015. With the pure stuff pretty much intact, he should be a decent fantasy contributor provided he lowers the walk rate back toward his 3.06 average and can reduce the damage via the longball, which is entirely possible given his track record prior to last season. With all of that in mind, we think it's likely that Archer can rebound in 2020 to post an ERA in the low-4s with a K/9 around 10. Of course, wins will be limited as he pitches for a crappy Pirates squad, but he should come at a discount in drafts because of his awful 2019.
Hayes on the Brink
Ke'Bryan Hayes (3B-PIT) might not be an elite prospect, but he's one to keep an eye on in 2020. Currently, he is a defense-first player who possesses excellent speed for a 3B. Those tools will get him into the majors, but his bat lags a bit behind his elite defense at the hot corner. In the then-22 year-old's first taste of Triple-A last season, he batted .265 with 10 homers, 53 RBI, 64 runs scored, and 12 stolen bases in 480 plate appearances. Not bad, but also not great. The good news is that Hayes will take his share of walks (9% walk rate in 2019) and makes enough contact (79%) en route to not striking out a ton (19%). Unfortunately, his batted-ball profile trends toward grounders (46% last season) and he hits relatively few liners (19%), leading some experts to suggest that he's a swing change away from channeling his ability to hit the ball hard into greater production.
Hayes is expected to make his MLB debut in 2020, as he's ready defensively and has shown at least modest offensive growth over his minor-league career, at least in terms of power. Colin Moran (.277-13-80) isn't exactly a roadblock at the hot corner, so that's not a significant concern here. Hayes will most likely start the 2020 campaign in Triple-A, but he should be on your radar in case he makes an adjustment that forces a promotion and makes him an asset for fantasy. The 2015 first-round pick is viewed as the Pirates 3B of the future, and he's knocking on the door. It's just a matter of whether he can make a tweak that unlocks his potential with the bat.
Solid with a Chance for More
Bryan Reynolds (OF-PIT) was a pleasant surprise in his big-league debut last season, as he batted .314 with 16 homers, 68 RBI, and 83 runs scored in 546 PAs. Although the then-24 year-old logged less than 450 total PAs in the minors above the A-level, he showed some command of the plate in the majors, striking out at a 22% clip and walking over 8% of the time. Sure, his .387 BABIP was on the high side and is likely due for some correction to the mean, but bear in mind that he did post a BABIP of .362 or greater at every stop in the minors. And he registered plenty of hard contact (43%) rate while slashing 24% liners and lofting 30% flyballs. Given his decent 50-grade speed, it's not the worst thing in the world for his average that 46% of his batted balls were grounders. So, on the heels of a strong debut, what can we expect from Reynolds in 2020?
He appears to have secured a starting role in LF, so he will have the opportunity to build upon his solid body of work from 2019. Even with some correction to the mean with the BABIP, we expect him to put up a quality BA, perhaps .280, while hitting about twenty dingers. Given his propensity for getting on base (.377 OBP last season, thanks in part to that 8.4% walk rate), he should occupy a nice slot near the top of the lineup, in front of Josh Bell. So, Reynolds should score a fair amount of runs albeit at the expense of RBI. If he can lift his swing a little from last season's 9% elevation, he could approach 30 longballs given his size (6'3", 205 pounds) and ability to punish balls he hits into the air (51% hard-hit on flyballs, 54% hard-hit on liners in 2020). You could do far worse when rounding out your roster.
Pass on Alfaro
On the surface, Jorge Alfaro (C-MIA) took a step forward in 2019, as he replicated his .262 average from the 2018 campaign while hitting a career-high 18 homers and driving in 57 runs in 431 PAs. But even a quick glance under the hood raises a field of red flags. For one, his strikeout rate was an ugly 33%, with a 50% chase rate and massive 22% swinging-strike rate behind that figure. And he was no more patient than he was in 2018, as his 4.7% walk rate actually represented a tiny bit of regression in that area. While Alfaro did make hard contact at a nice 44% clip, he also logged a 53% groundball rate. His 58% hard-hit rate on flyballs was definitely nice, but he lofted pitches at only a 25% clip. His flyball rate has steadily declined over the last three years, from 31% to 29%, and finally to that 25% figure above.
So, as brutal as the C landscape might be in fantasy, it's tough to recommend making Alfaro the warm body you pick to fill that position if you decide to punt it. Sure, at only 26 he might figure things out and go off, but one is better off going for the upside presented by the likes of Danny Jansen, Francisco Mejia, or Sean Murphy instead of simply glancing at Alfaro's 2019 line and thinking that he should be good enough. Because if the underlying numbers are to be trusted, his production is likely to regress in 2020.
Keep an Eye on Diaz
Isan Diaz (2B-MIA) didn't exactly impress in his MLB debut last season, recording a .173 average, 5 homers, and 23 RBI in 201 PAs. While he showed some patience at the plate (9.5% walk rate), his tendency to whiff returned (29% strikeout rate) after he curbed that in 435 Triple-A PAs prior to his promotion (22%). This was the 23 year-old's first taste of big-league pitching, so it's not exactly surprising that he should struggle a bit. But there are some encouraging things about that seemingly disastrous debut. For one, he did make hard contact at a 39% rate while logging a 7.4% barrel rate. And for a guy with some pop, he elevated plenty of flyballs (45%). Unfortunately, he made hard contact at only a 35% clip on those flies while logging a 70% hard-hit rate on liners (just 13% of his batted ball profile).
It may not be saying much, but we expect Diaz to take a step forward in 2020. He should open the season as Miami's starting 2B, so he'll have the opportunity to show what he can do with his three-true-outcomes approach. His minor-league record shows that he initially struggled upon his promotion to both Double-A and Triple-A before figuring things out and becoming a positive contributor. And while Marlins Park may not appear to be the ideal place for a swing-for-the-fences type, bear in mind that Diaz bats lefty, has a pull tendency (41%), and the right field fence in Miami is moving in prior to the start of the 2020 campaign. The strikeouts and flyballs will limit his average, but there's value here if he can at least keep that north of .240 while hitting homers like he's capable of (he did slug a total of 31 last season). Diaz should go undrafted in most leagues, so make sure he's on your watch list.
A Late Bloomer?
Garrett Cooper (1B/OF-MIA) could be a late-bloomer who helps out some fantasy teams in 2020. The 29 year-old showed some potential in 2019, when he batted .281 with 15 longballs and 50 RBI in just 421 PAs. The big (6'6", 230-pound) righty made some loud contact (41% hard-hit rate) while spreading the ball across the field (his spray ranged from 32.4% to 34.2% across all portions of the field). However, he was pretty groundball oriented (52%), which was also the trend in his long minor-league career. As one might guess, Cooper needed a fairly high HR/FB (23.8%) to rack up the homers that he did hit. He did tend to tattoo balls that he gave any elevation whatsoever, posting a 54% hard-hit rate on flies (just 23% of his batted balls) and a 58% clip on liners (25% of batted balls).
So what can we expect from him in 2020? It may be a challenge for him to find regular playing time following the arrival of Jesus Aguilar to play some 1B, but Cooper can also play OF. In fact, he was the starting RF in Miami to start the 2019 season, but a calf issue, a HBP that injured his hand, and a knee issue forced him to miss several chunks of time. The good news is that he makes lots of hard contact and doesn't exactly strike out a ton (26% last season). He's worth adding to the watch list in case he stays healthy and shows even a small shift toward elevating the ball more often. If he does, he could surpass the 20 dingers we have him projected for while contributing a solid average (think about .270). Not someone to draft, but definitely a guy to keep an eye on.
Willson Contreras (C-CHC) lost over a quarter of the 2019 campaign to a pair of injuries, most notably a hamstring strain that sidelined him for a month. Yet, he put together a decent season, finishing with a .272 average, 24 dingers, and 64 RBI in just 409 PAs. The power output was nice, as the .261 ISO was a career-best, apparently driven by a career-high but still modest 37% hard-hit rate. On the other hand, Contreras was again a groundball-oriented hitter (50%) who hit the fewest liners of his career (16%) while striking out in a career-worst 25% of PAs. It says a lot about the state of the C position in fantasy when Contreras is on the fringe of the top 5 even though he's made only 500 or more PAs once in his 3 seasons as a full-time major leaguer and he's yet to realize the potential that many fantasy owners seem to have for him. My biggest concern is that his propensity for driving pitches into the dirt will hold him back from being a true fantasy asset. I can't say that I like the idea of paying the necessary price to make him the 5th or so catcher taken off the board.
Trey Mancini (1B/OF-BAL) enters the 2020 campaign fresh off a career year in which he batted .291 with 35 homers, 97 RBI, and 106 runs scored in 679 PAs. There are some good numbers behind that production, as he slashed his strikeout rate 3% to 21% while raising his hard-hit rate to a career-high 37% (which is still modest), and slashing his groundball rate nearly 9% to 46%. His liner rate went up 3% to 22% and his flyball rate climbed about 6% to 32%. Those are all good signs, but Mancini's 24% HR/FB was slightly inflated from the 20-21% that he posted in 2017 and 2018. The HR/FB should stay at about 20%, as his hard-hit rate on flyballs was 51% and he does call Camden Yards home, but he's still a bit heavy on the grounders, much to the detriment of line-drive and flyball rates. So while this is the second season in which he's batted north of .290 out of his three full MLB campaigns, it's difficult to envision Mancini replicating last season's power output. I wouldn't draft him expecting a repeat of 2019.
Cavan Biggio (2B-TOR) showed a bit of everything that was expected of him in his 430-PA debut in 2019, hitting .234 with 16 dingers, 48 RBI, 66 runs scored, and 14 steals. He struck out a lot (28.6%) but took a ton of walks (16.5%) and made a fair amount of loud contact (39.5% hard-hit rate). Biggio roped lots of liners (28%) while lofting plenty of flyballs that he often struck well (45% hard-hit on flyballs) and pull to right field (49% pull rate). We anticipate that the 24 year-old will continue to grow in 2020, although his track record in the minors (in addition to his rookie campaign) indicate that whiffs will be a big part of the equation. We think he'll raise his average to a more respectable level (perhaps .250) while contributing about 20 or so each of homers and steals. Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoya recently announced that Biggio will likely bat second this season, so he should score plenty of runs, although those will come at the expense of RBI.
Yoan Moncada (3B-CHW) made tremendous strides in 2019, finishing the season with a .315 average, 25 homers, 79 RBI, 83 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in 559 PAs. The keys to his success aren't difficult to discern, as he slashed his strikeout rate nearly 6% to 27.5% while being more aggressive at the plate (walk rate down from 10% to 7%). His swing rate jumped 6% to 47% and, while his swinging strike rate climbed from 12.2% to 13.9%, he sustained a 70% contact rate that included the most hard contact (39%) of his young career. It is, of course, highly unlikely that Moncada replicates his league-high .406 BABIP, so it is difficult to envision him batting north of .300 again - something about .270 seems far more realistic. We like him to hit a few more homers in 2020 while chipping in a few steals - and it's possible that he taps into his plus-plus speed to give his fantasy owners more than they expected in the SB department.
Anthony Rendon (3B-LAA) will remain a top-5 fantasy 3B as he heads to the West Coast from the East in the wake of a career year. In 2019, Rendon batted .319 with 34 homers, 126 RBI, and 117 runs scored - all of those figures were career bests. He walked (12.4%) almost as frequently as he struck out (13.3%), made tons of contact (88% contact rate), and regularly punished the ball (45% hard-hit rate, the highest of his career), especially when he lofted flyballs (51% hard-hit). While the 15.9% HR/FB he posted last season is not high by any means, bear in mind that his career average is just 11.4%. Overall, we like him to again be an asset in the average category (after all, he's batted north of .300 each of the last three seasons) and to again be a strong contributor in both runs and RBI while hitting about 30 dingers.
Yu Darvish (SP-CHC) rebounded from a nightmare 2018 season to again be a fantasy asset last season. In 31 starts (178.2 IP), he recorded a 3.98 ERA, 11.54 K/9, and 2.82 BB/9, all of which - especially the ERA and BB/9 - were marked improvements from the previous campaign. His 3.39 xFIP, moreover, suggests that he was even better than the surface numbers indicate. In particular, a bloated 23% HR/FB should correct toward his 14% career clip in 2020. Darvish's elite 13.4% swinging-strike rate was a career best, and his 46% groundball rate was his highest since his rookie campaign back in 2012. And consider this: those overall numbers include a first half reminiscent of his 2018 campaign, as he had a 5.01 ERA, 10.30 K/9, and 4.55 BB/9 (4.24 xFIP) in 97 first-half IP. But after the All-Star break, a new Yu surfaced, one that put together a 2.76 ERA, 13 K/9, and 0.77 (!) BB/9 in 81.2 IP (2.37 xFIP). We expect the 2020 version of Darvish to be more like the second-half guy than the first, and as such he's a top-20 SP for us entering the season.
Zac Gallen (SP-ARI) is competing for a spot in the Diamondbacks rotation during spring training. In 2019, the 24 year-old put together a solid rookie campaign across 15 starts (80 IP) with the Miami and Arizona, finishing with a 2.81 ERA, 10.80 K/9, and 4.05 BB/9. As sexy as the ERA and K/9 might be, there are some concerns here beyond his having to earn a rotation spot. As his 4.15 xFIP and 4.24 SIERA indicate, quite a bit of luck helped him along the way last season; he certainly can't be expected to replicate an 84% strand rate and the .284 BABIP allowed was likely a bit on the low side. He managed to escape serious damage despite posting a BB/9 well above what he logged in 91.1 Triple-A IP prior to his promotion (1.68) and recording only a 39% groundball rate. On the other hand, Gallen's K/9 and 12.8% swinging-strike rate indicate that he does possess good stuff - especially a combination of a solid 93-mph heater and plus 85-mph change-up to go along with a developing slider and curve. We expect some correction to the mean this season, so don't overpay for Gallen based on the surface numbers from last year. But do keep him in mind as a guy to round out your rotation if he secures a role in the rotation.
Lance Lynn (SP-TEX) enjoyed a renaissance at age 32 last season, in hitter-friendly Globe Life Park of all places, as he finished the 2019 campaign with a 3.67 ERA, 10.63 K/9, and 2.55 BB/9 in 208.1 innings of work. That BB/9 was the best he put together in a significant sample size in a major-league season, surpassing his previous low of 3.18 from 2014. Similarly, that K/9 was his big-league best. Lynn's 3.85 xFIP and 3.83 SIERA suggest that his numbers roughly finished where they should have, with a little good luck (10% HR/FB) and poor luck (.322 BABIP) to some degree balancing one another out. While opposing batters made their fair share of loud contact against him (39% hard-hit rate), a career-high 12.5% swinging-strike rate helped him get out of trouble. A combination of a slight velocity spike and a noticeable shift in his repertoire usage likely account for some of Lynn's success, as his average fastball velocity was a career-high 95 mph and he reduced his sinker usage (17%, lowest in a full season for him) and deployed his cutter more than ever before in his career (16%). Given that most of the metrics indicate that we should largely take his 2019 performance at face value, we believe that he's right around a top-30 SP for 2020.
Mike Soroka (SP-ATL) enjoyed a fine rookie campaign in 2019, as the then-21 year-old finished with a 2.68 ERA, 7.32 K/9, and 2.11 BB/9 in 174.2 IP. However, his 3.85 xFIP and 4.28 SIERA raise some red flags, indicating that we can't fully trust the surface numbers and that we should expect some correction in 2020. Sure, his control is very good and he induces a nice percentage of grounders (51%), but his strikeout ability is below average and opposing batters can square up against him a decent bit (24% liner rate allowed). And while Soroka's fastball isn't overpowering at 93 mph, he does mainly throw a 92-mph sinker (45%), mixing in a plus 81-mph change-up (12%) that meets the 10-mph split ideal and an 83-mph slider that is also a plus pitch. The bad news is that he stranded 80% of baserunners last season while opposing batters assembled a .280 BABIP - both are likely to trend against him a little going forward. There is certainly the possibility that the youngster takes a step forward in 2020, but a key to raising his value in fantasy will be elevating his swinging-strike rate from an uninspiring 10.3%; that would help him rack up more Ks as well as mitigate the correction that will come with a normalized BABIP and strand rate. We currently view Soroka as a fringe-top 30 SP for fantasy.
Shane Bieber (SP-CLE) established himself as a top-10 SP for fantasy in 2020 with a 2019 campaign that surpassed the expectations of most fantasy owners and experts. The 24 year-old recorded a 3.28 ERA, 10.88 K/9, and 1.68 BB/9 in 214.1 innings of work, with a 3.23 xFIP and 3.36 SIERA saying that his surface numbers were legit. We knew that he possessed elite control, but he had never really flashed this kind of strikeout ability, as his career-high in a significant sample size at any level prior to last season was the 9.29 K/9 that he recorded in 114.2 innings of work with the Indians in 2018 (his K/9 largely sat in the 8s during his minor-league days). While his fastball clocks at a respectable but not overwhelming 93 mph, Bieber only offers it 46% of the time, mixing in a solid 83-mph curve (21%) and very good 85-mph slider (27%) while sprinkling in his below-average 88-mph change-up (7%). His swinging-strike rate jumped from 11.4% in his rookie campaign in 2018 to an elite 14% last season, fueling that climb in strikeouts. We expect him to put together a 2020 campaign that sits right about the top 10 for SP in fantasy, one that is comparable to what the 24 year-old did last season.
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